Social Development Minister Paula Bennett is having a good week if she’s not in the media for something unpleasant. This week, a blogger claimed that her department was refusing to allow the purchase of tampons and pads with food grant money, claiming that these were luxury items.
Ms Bennett claims that this is not the case, and that the only supermarket items excluded from the grant were alcohol, cigarettes, electronics, and appliances. So, on one hand, we have a blogger who has a couple of anecdotes of the problem, and on the other, the minister in charge saying that this is absolutely not the case, “end of story”.
Oooh, Paula, you really shouldn’t use phrases like ‘end of story’. Because there’s something going on here. The two women in the blog post both hail from the same WINZ office. While excluding feminine hygiene products from food grants may not be WINZ policy, these women have got this idea from somewhere. Perhaps, instead of discounting them with a curt ‘end of story’, you should do some digging. There’s a good chance that they’re getting this bad information from one of your own staff, and you should look into it before you end up looking silly.
There are so many ‘can you believe?!’ stories out there about WINZ, and while a good chunk of it comes from the arguably terrible policies that they have to enforce, there’s also plenty that come from staff that are wrong about official policy for whatever reason. Maybe they missed that day of training. Maybe they just don’t remember properly, or it’s an honest mistake. Maybe they really don’t like poor people. Whatever. There are plenty of reasons they can get it wrong, and ‘that’s not our policy’ is not the same as ‘that shouldn’t be happening’ or ‘we’ll look into it’. The former makes the ministry look like they have no idea what’s happening in the field. The latter two at least give latitude for remediation.